Nothing says Easter Sunday quite like SPRING BREAKERS. So with my entire family out of town, and my pockets fortified with foil covered chocolate eggs, I drove to the theater and purchased my ticket.
The week before, in a class where we are studying classic three-act structure, one of my students said she’d seen the movie and thought it was structureless. “No main character, it was stupid, it wandered….” Of course, now I had to check it out.
Let me begin by saying that this was one of the most sexually disturbing and violent films I’ve ever seen. So some of you might want to excuse yourselves right now.
Yeah, I knew you’d still be here.
I did, in fact, discover that the film IS classically structured. And a perfect example of how a shifting main character can work. Yes, there are whole stretches of sexually demeaning imagery around women and voice over that endlessly repeats (authentically, for those of you who have never endured the mind numbing repetitiveness of a teenaged diary). And yes, it’s skeevy, and yes, I found myself embarrassed and mortified several times throughout. However, the film also left me deeply exhilarated.
What the hell?
As the parent of two teenaged boys, there’s nothing more frightening to me than young people who are depressed, nihilistic, and who choose violent avenues to break out of their stupor. But while I expected this of the film, I did not expect it to ultimately be movie about female empowerment.
The movie starts by focusing on a young religious college student played by Selena Gomez. She and her friends are bored, want to go to Florida for spring break, but have no money. What’s a girl to do?
Rob a crappy diner of course.
What follows is a debauched week of drinking and drugs (hilariously described in voice-over by one of the girls as “magical”) and ends with the girls being arrested. The judge tells them they won’t be charged with narcotics use because no drugs were found on their person (no s*** Sherlock, they’re wearing bikinis.) They have a choice—they can either pay a fine or spend two days in the county jail.
Enter James Franco. Now, this is not your mother’s James Franco—no PINEAPPLE EXPRESS stoner high jinks here. He plays a low life drug dealer with grilled teeth, skankily cornrowed hair, who drives a Mustang with his street name, “Alien,” on the license plate. He pays the girls’ bail and at this point, I’m wanting to shout, “Run Disney Princesses!”
Franco does a beautiful job, especially in a moment where he tries to convince a scared Selena not to go home. But even using his considerable pimp tricks, he fails and she leaves (adios main character number one!) Now Alien becomes the protagonist. He leads a fantastic sequence where he brags to the girls about all of his possessions, and to prove his vulnerability to the remaining three, sits at his rickety white piano in the backyard of his stucco tract house and serenades them with a Britney Spears song.
If course, in a scene that is so INSANE I can’t even describe it here, they all fall in love with each other.
This being classic three act structure, it all goes well for a while and then it all falls apart. One girl is shot in the arm, and leaves. Now there are only three.
And there’s a decision to be made.
Alien must kill the antagonist, a drug dealer who (of course) was his mentor and best friend. Now Korine is really mocking classic story structure. Really? We’re going to have a big Scarface shoot out in St. Petersburg? When Alien hesitates, the girls call him “scaredy pants,” and we begin to see just how big these tiny bikini bottoms are starting to get.
In a crazy homage to James Bond and Charlie’s Angels, the three cut across the water in a speedboat. Alien wearing a day glo yellow t-shirt, and the two girls in matching bikinis and pink unicorn face masks.
As they charge the bad guy’s compound, Alien is shot dead (adios protagonist number two!) But we don’t linger. The girls continue on, guns blazing, until they take down every henchman and shoot the bad guy in his hot tub. He deserves to die, by the way, because he’s wearing a necklace shaped like a giant ice cream cone.
On their way back to the boat, the girls kiss dead Alien. Remember ladies, it’s always important in the story to thank your mentor.
And here’s where I’M LOVING IT. For the entire movie, we have been bombarded with images of women as objects. Asses shaking in bikinis, bare breasts bobbing, beer bongs spewing, and now we realize we’ve been tricked.
Selena wasn’t the main character, and neither was James Franco.
The protagonist is ultimately young womanhood itself.
We don’t even remember the two remaining girls’ names. It doesn’t matter. They are blonde, indistinguishable.
They look good in a bikini and still like unicorns. They’re not gonna get raped or abused or subjugated (which is where our expectations lead us.) Hell no. Every girl gets out of there alive. And all the bad MEN die.
They really are Disney heroines!
Yeah… SPRING BREAKERS embraces all the conventions of objectification, but it also is a completely original take on female power.
It’s ironic, hilarious, and a film that’s willing to take risks and mash up genres and themes in a way that’s disturbing and funny.
As I left the theater, I reached into my pocket and munched on my last remaining foil covered egg. In a movie landscape that often serves up fossilized concepts and tired cliches, finally, a movie that pushes the rock away and rises from the dead.
Where else could I possibly want to spend my Easter Sunday?